Wooden bench planes are simpler in construction than their metal counterparts. They are often box-shaped and have a squarish profile viewed end on, but designs do vary.
For instance, some wooden bench plane stocks are curved towards their toe and heel, and are described as coffin-shaped.
The plane’s iron is usually held in place with a wooden wedge, rather than having a lever cap with a cam or a wheel nut as used on many metal bench planes.
Wooden planes are mostly “single-iron” – that is, they have no chip breaker . . .
. . . but some do have chip breakers, which makes the blade less likely to bend in use, and helps by breaking the “chip” – the sliver of wood shaving – so reducing the risk of splitting the wood being planed.
Also called the “block” or “body”, the hardwood stock is the main part of the plane, or at least the largest portion of it, to which all other parts are attached.
It varies in length and width according to the type of bench plane. Usually, smoothing planes are short and relatively narrow, jack planes a little longer, fore planes longer again and wider, and jointer planes are the longest and widest.
They can vary from around 150mm (6″) long by less than 50mm (2″) wide, up to more than 610mm (24″) long by more than 75mm (3″) wide. The longer a plane is, the better it is for levelling, or flattening, the wood.
This is the underside, or bottom, of the stock, that glides along the surface of the wood as it is planed. It has to be perfectly flat to ensure the planed edges and faces of wood are true – that is, flat and “square” or perpendicular with adjacent faces or edges.
The toe is simply the front section of the plane’s stock and sole. It needs to be pressed down, with hand pressure on the front handle or front of the stock, when planing wood.
The heel is the back or rear section of the plane’s stock and sole.
Also called the “blade” or “cutter”, this is the all-important, hardened steel part that is sharpened at its lower end to cut the wood. It is usually bedded bevel down at an angle of about 45 degrees to the sole looking at the side, or cheek, of the plane, but can be as high as 55 degrees in some planes.
Chip breaker or cap iron (where fitted)
The traditional wooden bench plane does not have a chip breaker, but some wooden planes do have them as an aid to breaking, or curling, the shaving, or chip, before it can gain any leverage, reducing the possibility of the wood splitting.Also called the back iron, backing iron or cap iron, this plate also helps to reduce chatter by supporting the blade.
If fitted, the chip breaker fits on top of the iron, behind the wedge (see below), although some wooden planes are made with a wooden or metal lever cap in place of the wedge.
This is the inner area of the stock where the iron rests. It is sometimes referred to as the “frog” but, unlike the usual frog in standard metal planes, it cannot be moved backwards and forwards to adjust the gap between the blade and the leading edge of the mouth.
This is the rectangular opening, or slot, in the sole through which the iron protrudes. Practically all wooden bench planes have fixed mouths – that is, the opening cannot be adjusted to size to take a thinner or thicker chip, or shaving, according to the depth setting of the iron.
The deeper the blade setting, the wider the mouth needs to be. Wooden smoothing planes, which usually cut a very thin shaving, have small mouth openings, while jack, fore and jointer planes have bigger mouths to cope with thicker shavings as they reduce and level the wood.
This is the angled piece of wood used to hold the iron firmly in place.
Some wooden planes have a wooden or metal lever cap instead of a wedge.
Wedge stops, wedge mortise or clamp bar
The wedge needs something to fit against so that it tightens up on the iron, or the chip breaker and iron, when it is tapped down into the “throat” of the plane with a mallet.
Devices that retain the wedge include stops, or mortises, cut into the throat of the plane. They are also known as wedge mortises.
An alternative device is a clamp bar, also known as a cross pin or rod, which can be made of metal or wood. The ends of the bar fit into holes in the cheeks of the plane.
Tote and knob, or handles
Where fitted, the tote is the rear handle, which can follow one of several designs – for instance, open, like a pistol grip, or closed, like a traditional saw handle.
The knob or front handle, where fitted, can be a traditional, round knob shape, or take other forms, such as a horn shape. Some woodworkers use horned planes “backwards” – shaving on the pull rather than the push stroke – so the horn effectively becomes the main handle.But many wooden bench planes don’t have handles at all – the woodworker holds the rear of the stock with the dominant hand and the front with the other.
This is a raised area on top of the the stock, forward of the throat, which is hit with a small hammer or mallet to loosen the wedge. It is normally made of metal, or wood that is harder than the stock.